Note From the Publisher

Promises, Promises

By From the March 2009 issue

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I find it enlightening to review the many promises made by incoming presidents over the years, and to then compare those promises with what they actually accomplished.

The country is fixated on what Mr. Obama has promised and his big plans. With Washington now owned by the left, there is no little bit of damage that he and his cohorts in Congress might do. But a look at history will reveal that things never turn out as even the wisest among us expect. Presidents usually end up remembered not for what they promised, but for persistent and nasty little problems they did not foresee. Just ask LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Take economics. The Democrats' so-called stimulus is designed to fundamentally restructure our economy and set the country on a new course. We may be in the minority, but we happen to think that any change will be negative and likely result in unhappy times we have unfortunately seen before. The U.S. economy has enjoyed steady economic growth since its earliest days, with the exception of two protracted periods of stasis and decline: the 1930s and the 1970s. We asked economist Steve Moore to take a look at the more recent decade. Growth fell during those ten years by 45 percent from the postwar pace and Jimmy Carter's "misery index," which combines inflation and unemployment, jumped from its postwar average of 7 percent to a truly miserable 21 percent. A new term was coined -- stagflation -- and it’s about to make a comeback.

Mr. Obama’s economic policies, Moore warns, coming in the wake of the imploding Bush presidency's bailouts of the past several months, could return us to interest rates, unemployment, and inflation not seen since that dreaded Carter era. If the unanticipated recession is what we will remember George W. Bush by, then unanticipated stagflation could be Mr. Obama's legacy -- unanticipated by Mr. Obama, that is.

What about events abroad? Mr. Obama has promised to withdraw from Iraq and to send more troops instead into Afghanistan. He will also, he tells us, finally locate the elusive Mr. Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice (presumably in an air-conditioned courtroom, subject to the federal rules of evidence and all the other constitutional niceties accorded to American miscreants). But where, oh where, you might wonder, is this Osama, and what is it that we are actually trying to achieve in Afghanistan? In a pair of pieces we examine these questions. Historian and analyst Angelo Codevilla, in our cover story, contends it’s more likely we'll find Mr. Elvis Presley among the living than the permanently missing Mr. bin Laden. Meanwhile, foreign policy hand Stefan Halper explains why our chance of accomplishing whatever it is we are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan -- a good question by itself -- is not much better than that experienced by the British in the 1840s or the Russians in the 1980s. To give our previous comparison a different twist: If George W. Bush will be remembered for an Iraq war he did not, in the early days of his presidency, anticipate, will Mr. Obama -- a president promising to reshape the world -- end up remembered for a debacle in Afghanistan?

George Friedman, in his perceptive new book The Next 100 Years, reminds us that things that appear to be permanent at any given moment can change with the blink of an eye. As we anticipate the Obama-Pelosi-Reid domination of government, we should look back to 1980: we had been defeated in a lengthy war with North Vietnam aided by China, the U.S. was in decline about everywhere you looked, and the USSR was at the peak of its power. A mere 20 years later the Soviet Union was out of business, the economic boom was roaring along, and China was busily turning itself into a capitalist country. Then came September 11 and the world was turned on its ear. So let us remind Mr. Obama that nobody has a clear view of the future. But you can bet the farm on one thing. It will look vastly different from what this president, or anyone else, may think right now.

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About the Author

Alfred S. Regnery is a former publisher of The American Spectator. He is the former president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, Inc., which produced twenty-two New York Times bestsellers during his tenure. Regnery also served in the Justice Department during the Reagan Administration, worked on the U.S. Senate staff, and has been in private law practice.  He currently serves on several corporate and non-profit boards, and is the Chairman of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute .